Recently, I was discussing peace issues with a visitor to campus, who was glad to hear that we had a Peace Studies program, but was nevertheless not very optimistic about the prospects for peace. This person said,
“The problem is that war makes lots of money, but peace does not.”
Come to think, it must be very profitable to get economically involved in war. You have big customers: governments. You make things that get destroyed, so you have to keep making — and selling — them.
In mediation training, we were taught to assist others in resolving their conflicts by identifying the needs on both sides. When a person expresses a need for “money,” we are taught to seek more information by remembering that money is not a need but a strategy. We are taught to respond to the person by asking: “If you had money, what needs would be satisified?”
And so it strikes me that those who profit financially from war have seriously confused means and ends. They set money itself as a goal, when really it is a strategy; and they allow destruction, violence, and killing be the means to fulfill that goal, when in fact the alleviation of destruction and human suffering ought itself to be the goal. Thus, they allow the violation of what should be our collective goal become the means to an end that is not itself really a goal at all! It may imply further goals, but those goals remain unspecified. We allow those goals to remain personal and private, selfish and invisible.
How is it that we tolerate this? How is it that we let society evolve to the point where most people do not even perceive how problematic this is?
We have let economics replace morality. We do not question people’s striving to make as much money as they want, and we don’t at all hold them accountable for what they do with their money.
And so if some people destroy the goals of others (or even their lives, as in war) in their efforts to make lots of money, we don’t hold them morally accountable for this, and we never even think to ask, “even if the ends justify the means, then were your ends noble enough?” because we think making money is always a noble enough goal in itself. But is it? If mediators are right, it is not even a goal.
But we as a society have been fooled into accepting it as a goal, and an inherently noble one. So we don’t ask the additional questions that the mediator is trained to ask: “what do you need that money for?” Nor do we ask the additional “impolite” question that mediators, in their non-judgmental mode, never ask: “Is what you are spending that money for worth the real cost?”